R.I.P. The World Series, 1903-2000
by Tim Gilbert | Penn State University
The World Series lived a long, prosperous life. It saw some incredible things in its ninety-seven years here on earth. It survived the Great Depression, five wars, and steroid scandals galore. When baseball lovers speak of the World Series of years past, they do so with awe in their voices and a twinkle in their eyes.
Wait. Isn’t the World Series alive and well, you ask? Didn’t the St. Louis Cardinals just win a World Series on Friday?
No, they did not. They won a sparkly trophy. But they did not win a World Series.
You see, believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago in this country when the words ‘World’ and ‘Series’ right next to each other meant something. And no matter how riveting, jaw-dropping, and heart-stopping the 2011 World Series between the Cardinals and Texas Rangers might have been, America didn’t care.
Baseball, the wonderful sport which we once honestly called America’s National Pastime, was the nation’s greatest release from the daily grind. Kids flocked to their local baseball diamonds in the heat of summer to not only play ball, but to socialize and live youth to its fullest. Businessmen took days off from work to bring their children to the ballpark to see their heroes play, to hear those nostalgic sounds of wood cracking against cowhide and the resounding thud of ball on glove.
The most brilliant part of the game was its simplicity. To play, a man throws a ball at a squatting man, and a man standing in between them tries to hit the ball as far as he can. Hell, the best player of all time – Babe Ruth – ate hot dogs and smoked cigars right in the middle of games. Humphrey Bogart, a member of The Rat Pack who knew how to enjoy the lavish life, once said, “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz.”
The game of baseball was beloved.
So you should see why the World Series was revered.
The World Series made every man in America put his life on hold, no matter what teams were playing in it and no matter what their circumstances (see Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkLSbDudrjU). Families would huddle around their television sets to watch the country’s favorite athletes compete for the country’s greatest title in sports.
In the World Series, magic and miracles were to be expected. Ordinary men became heroes.
Then the World Series died peacefully. So peacefully, in fact, that many didn’t even know it was dead until recently.
In 2008, stories about the World Series’ television ratings demise began to pile up. During that year, the upstart Philadelphia Phillies matched up with the Cinderella Tampa Bay Rays in a contest that would have interested many millions in years past. In 2008, on the other hand, it drew an embarrassing 8.4 rating. That means that an average of 8.4 percent of United States homes was tuned into any of the 2008 World Series’ five games. It was the worst rating ever by a single World Series.
To be fair, let’s go ahead and mark that one up as an aberration. Philadelphia and Tampa Bay certainly weren’t thriving baseball markets in the national sports spectrum at the time, so fans were just turned off by the competing teams.
But if that World Series was an aberration, how does one explain the 2010 World Series, in which the San Francisco Giants beat the Rangers in five games? That championship bout drew the exact same rating as 2010’s – 8.4.
Okay, okay. Maybe San Francisco and Dallas are big national markets, but let’s give baseball its benefit of the doubt and say that the games themselves just weren’t that exciting, so no one tuned in. Fair enough.
But there is no excuse for the ratings of last week’s World Series.
It was an incredibly competitive seven game contest. Its Game 6 is being called the best playoff game in the long history of baseball by pundits. In the series, we saw one of the game’s all-time greats (Albert Pujols) tie a record by smacking three home runs in a single game. We saw a 25-year old (Derek Holland) toss 8.1 innings of shutout ball in his first World Series start. We saw the Cardinals come back twice after being backed down to their last strike of their season, then win it in the eleventh inning on a walk-off homer by a kid who rooted for the Cardinals growing up – all in one game. It was a World Series for the ages.
It drew a 10.0 rating.
Only 10 percent of the people in this country thought one of the best World Series ever was exciting enough to watch. To make matters worse, those numbers were bolstered thoroughly by the ratings that Friday’s Game 7 received; had it not been for those ratings, the Series probably would have been right in line with the 8.4 number of 2008 and 2010.
When you compare that 10.0 mark to the 27.5 rating of the 1976 Series, when the Cincinnati Reds swept the New York Yankees in a thoroughly unexciting series, you can see how much of a problem the ratings have become for baseball.
The common excuse for the ratings blunders is that when nationally-followed teams like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox aren’t playing, not enough people have a rooting interest to watch.
That excuse is a red herring conjured up by the MLB. The fact is, people just don’t care about baseball like they used to.
An examination of the recent World Series ratings paints a very bleak picture for baseball. To wit, Baseball Almanac says that all the ten worst-rated World Series ever have all came since the year 2000. That’s quite a departure from 1968 to 1992, when the World Series had a rating of at least 20.0 every year except 1989, when the event was delayed by a major California earthquake that caused a 10-day hiatus of play. Since 2000, the year the World Series passed away (as its ratings evidence), the best rating it has received is 15.8 in 2004.
Some point to the labor strike of 1994 as a turning point for baseball’s popularity. Indeed, the cancelation of the ’94 Series was a black mark for the game. However, the more definitive reason for the failure of baseball to captivate audiences like it used to, is, well, the times.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that baseball is boring to watch. A great deal of Americans prefer to watch the hard-hitting, exciting action of a football game instead of baseball’s often monotonous catch-and-throw. As technology began to improve in the early 90’s with the advent of easily accessible Internet and a wider usage of cell phones, the demand for instant gratification grew as well. No one wants to sit and wait for a couple innings of baseball for someone to hit one far away. They can just tune into any football game and be excited with almost every play. The simplicity that once made baseball so loved now makes it ignored.
Now, I admit that I might seem to be a little harsh in light of the epic World Series that was just finished. However, I love baseball with all my heart, and it pains me brutally to see America turn a blind eye to what I still see as the country’s National Pastime. I also fully realize that legendary baseball journalist Peter Gammons disagrees with my views, but one fact cannot be disputed: The utter captivation that the World Series once cast over the nation is gone.
I remember how my father used to solemnly bemoan the fate of the 1964 Phillies, who blew a 6.5 game lead in the National League with 12 games to play. In those days, there were no playoffs – if you won your league, you were in the World Series. It seemed like such a sure thing that the Phillies would win the pennant that season that World Series tickets were sold before the event even started, and my grandfather managed to get ahold of some for his son.
Those tickets still hang above my dad’s desk as a memento of what could have been. Even a mention of the year 1964 makes my dad a crestfallen man.
That’s how much a World Series used to mean. Those days are over.
Rest in Peace, World Series.Tim is a NGJ Voices Contributor and a freshman at Penn State. He's a sportswriter for The Daily Collegian, Penn State's student newspaper, and is a journalism major. He hopes to cover Major League Baseball.